Autistic Identity

The wonderful folks at Reframing Autism recently launched a series of videos by Autistic people sharing their views on a variety of topics. (Check out their Facebook page for more and hit them a Like or Follow while you’re there!) This video is my humble contribution, about my Autistic identity.

A few years ago, during a coffee catch-up with a brain scientist friend, I revealed to him that I had been diagnosed as Autistic. It was both intriguing and saddening to see and hear his reaction. Where previously, he had declare how fascinated he was with my eccentric personality, now, he was somewhat derisive.

“Oh, you can’t be Autistic, you’re not at all like Temple Grandin! You are too fluent in your speech and communication.”

I tried to explain, that I have had plenty of practice, since I began to become aware of my own existence, around the age of 5 or 6, I started to practice in front of the mirror, taking on various personas. The subconscious was already telling me that I was not the same as others, and I had embarked on a meticulous training journey in the art of social camouflage. There were awkward moments – and there still are – but I made it my life’s mission (at the time) to refine my skills so much so that nobody could tell I was performing. It wasn’t difficult to carry off when in the midst of strangers, and even with so-called ‘close’ friends, I was consciously engaging myself in various forms of theatre. I was in my 40s by the time I was formally diagnosed – Asperger’s was the label then, but I am more comfortable with the encompassing ‘Autistic’ identity, not just because Asperger’s is now subsumed into the wider Autism category but also because I do not want to be associated in any way with the small group of ‘Aspie Supremacists’ who deem themselves superior to the rest of autistic people.

My explanation – which has since become a recognised phenomenon called ‘masking’ or ‘social camouflage’ studied seriously by researchers today – fell on un empathic ears. The brain scientist decided he was the expert who knew me better than I did myself. His question saddened me.

“Is this because you want to be Autistic?”

I realised, then, that there will be friends I have to leave behind along this journey towards being Me. And he was one of them.

Again, I’ll leave this song of mine – first recorded in 2000 – here, as a reminder to all, and to me, that Beingness is an endeavour, but we should never be ashamed of the effort and the journey.

“Me”, 2000 – ©Dawn-joy Leong

keyboard revival

Apple Keyboards 1998-2014

I unearthed these recently. Some of them are more than a decade old. We go way back together, as far back as 1998, my first Macintosh was the bondi blue iMac 3. A few were from father’s collection of Apples, he had numerous ones in his basket. Typical Autistic collector. Lining up Apples in a row with a gleeful shine in his eyes. Dad was no technophobic old fogey. He built his own PCs, he was conversant in Linux, Windows and Mac OS. Funny enough, I was the one who got him hooked. Of course, it helped that dad’s second degree, apart from dentistry, was electronics engineering. He made the leap pretty easily. Sadly, the year of his death, he no longer had the strength to sit up and indulge in his many Autistic Joys and toys. I salvaged as many pieces as I could. These were some things we shared in common.

I tested each one in the photograph. I was quite surprised and thrilled at the same time. All of them still work, except for one. Care to guess which one no longer works?

Ironically, the newest one is dead. I bought it in 2007, the year of father’s passing. Well, what am I keeping them all for? Waiting to become art installations, perhaps? Now all I need is a commission to make new art!

COVID19: isolating beauty

I admit I am a stereotypical autist. You know, the kind that people make jokes about, the hermits who prefer their own company, the ones that people like Bryna Siegel (now probably made famous by my repeated quotation) said are stubbornly inside our own worlds and refuse to emerge when ordered to.

I actually mean it when I say, “What is it in your world that is so attractive to make me want to be in it?” Nothing that I can cite.

Perilous times we live in now. Staying home as much as possible is self-care and social responsibility, yes. But I have to admit it is something I absolutely enjoy, almost blissful, really. Though I am mindful that many others – neuronormative as well as autistic – do not like it at all. I have autistic and non-autistic friends who are feeling horribly unsettled, some dangerously so, and I almost feel guilty about loving isolation so much. I cannot get enough of it, there’s just not sufficient time in a day to do all the wonderful things that are tugging at me to attend to.

I want to sew, crochet, draw, paint, and make prototypes of the thoughts gyrating in my mind. I want to play the piano, to try and achieve my former proficiency. I want to write music and create soundscapes, take more photographs and videos. I want to learn how to handle a DSLR (ok I don’t even have one). I want to learn better video editing skills. I want to master Final Cut Pro and Photoshop. I want to start working seriously on Scheherazade’s Sea 2. And I want to spend time with Lucy. More, more, more, please! But there’s only that much in a day, and I do have pressing work to spend my hours on. I love the research work I am doing, don’t get me wrong. I am incredibly lucky to really adore my work. But I struggle with multitasking when detailed intensity of focus is equally required for each task – and I am juggling three at the moment.

Last night, I ‘stole’ some time and spent a bit of energy on ‘play’: just having some simple  fun with a few low-resolution, inexpertly taken photos clogging up my iPhone memory. A bit of self-indulgent activity that didn’t take up many hours. Time now to get cracking on the work projects. I must find a better, more efficient way of juggling this.

If only I had more hours in a day for isolating beauty!

preparing Clement Space

It has been awhile since I’ve last visited Bunnyhopscotch. Lucy and I have been busy.

Our latest commission by the National Gallery Singapore to create a new iteration of Clement Space has been an exciting, exhilarating and challenging adventure.

Here’s something that most people will not know or see, a peep behind the scenes.

Setting up is always very hard work for an installation artist. Each time I do so, I half jokingly ask myself, “Why oh why didn’t I become a painter instead?” But paintings on the wall are different from what I set out to create in the very first place. I’ve always imagined a space in which I could engage with all the elements, experiencing not only the superficial sensory stimuli, but that deeper, elemental connectivity that speaks directly to my intrinsic autistic modality. So, here I am, in this strange, bizarre and dichotomous interstice as a musician-and-installation-artist.

I am blessed once again to have a great team to help me set up, three friends who worked extremely hard without complaint. With an exercise such as this, if anything can go wrong, it will go wrong, especially since the spectres of Artaud and Wagner seem to plague me whenever I am faced with this kind of task or situation. One of our team had made arrangements for a man with a small lorry (truck) to pick up our installation components, and had sent the man a photograph of the carpark entrance stating very clearly the clearance height. The man with the lorry said his vehicle was able to enter without problems.

Height-Clearance

Maximum height clearance 2.1metres!

Well, not so. At the very last minute, upon arrival, the lorry guy rang me and told me his lorry was too tall! We ended up walking back and forth and back and forth umpteen times, lugging the various rather heavy and/or bulky items from the lobby to the lorry (which had to be parked just outside the carpark). Exhausted and drenched in perspiration, we then made our way to the National Gallery, where yet another arduous adventure awaited us. The lorry parked at the designated loading bay, but we had to lug every component, bit by bit, to and through a passageway several metres away. More to-ing and fro-ing heave-ho-ing. By the time we managed to schlep every bit of my ‘treasure’ to the site, we were at breaking point, both physically and mentally. No rest for the weary or the wicked, though, and so, my amazing team proceeded to lay the blue carpet out. Midway, we ran out of carpet tape, so we decided to call it a day. Phew!

Set-Up

Not very clement-looking is it?

Back the next morning with a new roll of carpet tape, the rest of the blue flooring was laid out. Then began an entire morning of setting up the shelving system.

Setting-Up-Shelves

Blood, sweat & toil!

Those who think that the life of an installation artist is all fun and games, think again. How did all the components get into and come together inside that space that you are now enjoying and exploring? Not via a dainty wave of some magic wand, mind you, but by hefty lifting and much sweat (with blood and tears mixed in too), not to mention the necessary filling in of many forms required by the venue for permission to do this and that.

Kudos to my team, who never once grumbled about the unexpected workload.

And… it is up and running! Clement Space is open from 10 January to 1 March 2020. Come and visit!

IMG_6304-cs

Clement Space @ National Gallery Singapore

For more photos and musings, click this link, which would lead you to my official website.

Media videos:

From the National Gallery: please visit in Youtube and hit us a thumbs-up if you like what you see!

 

From Channel News Asia: Singapore Tonight live interview 8 Jan 2020

first meeting

IMG_3624-w

Phad Thai, mango salad and Thai green milk tea.

Here it is again, that photo of my Thai set meal.

My first production meeting with a new friend who’s kindly consented to be my crafting/making assistant for an upcoming project. We had brunch at the Siamese Cat Thai cafe near my home.

This cafe has had quite a number of complaints about their unenthusiastic service, and I can understand why. We arrived at 10am, when the cafe is supposed to be open for service, but nobody bothered with us, until half an hour later. Never mind, we’re resourceful creatures, we found ourselves a suitable table, and we launched into our excited discussion straight away. Continue reading

hyperbole

Autistic Joy is no exaggeration. It is, however, a magnificent thing indeed, to be engaging in one’s autistic passion. For this Autistic Artist Bunny, the process of artistry is the goal, rather than the physical outcome. The work of art takes on it’s own agency, it is an entity that travels an inexorable path – and the autistic artist the facilitator, observer from within and without, the honoured witness of things too magnificent to ascribe words to.

I have been deep in this amazing communication: mind and body touching, twisting, turning and dancing with, through, and after pattern, form, rhythm, time, space. Connecting with the vast complexity of the material universe in the most simple of ways.

Contemplating the Fibonacci sequence, the hype that surrounded it, the concrete beauty of it, and feeling its sensory tendrils via a most humble activity: crochet.

These are the tiny little components, the smallest of organisms, that are growing, forming, shimmering and meandering, seemingly solitary and meaningless, yet which shall meld, infuse and evolve into a larger entity.

The Work has begun again. And the thrill of Autistic Joy springs forth once more. It isn’t exaggeration – no hyperbole at all – it is uncomplicated, lucid and coherent Experience of Beauty.

For those guessing – yes, Autistic Bunny has begun to work on a brand new commission. Watch this space!

not alone

Not alone, never lonely – when I am with Lucy. I have never liked to ‘share’ my mental, emotional and physical space when I am deep inside my creating, building, making realm. Yet, sharing this sacred space with Lucy is so comfortable, seamless, and even joyful. And she has taught me how to (sometimes) tolerate other humans inside this interstice of clemency too.

I’ve been finding renewal and restoration for frayed nerves and burnout inside this space lately. Coincidentally, renewing and restoring some of my old clothes – accompanied by Lucy. The above photos show my latest execution: modified a pair of very old Roberto Cavalli jeans and transformed it into a long skirt. Lucy approves, methinks? ❤

imperilment

Autism Grand Circus

An autistic friend recently supplied me with this link, a tongue-in-cheek “New Age Bullshit Generator“, which generates a slew of pseudoscientific propositions for any kind of purpose you wish to apply it to. We were discussing the topic of snake-oil and pseudoscience, and its prevalence in what I call The Grand Autism Circus.

On the one hand, the New Age Bullshit Generator is an exercise of ironic humour (and very clever programming), but one should not ignore the presence of a grave, sombre message that lies beneath. Pseudoscience permeates the autism world, which is a fierce and aggressive circus that does not exist in the realm of any other disability in today’s context. Continue reading

si bon, si bon! – SYNC Day 3

This slideshow requires JavaScript.

Day 3 of SYNC.

I am not going to talk about the course itself, but will just prattle away about my sensory experience. So, be prepared for fragments, bits and bobs, and gyrations going hither tither without much finesse.

I didn’t get enough sleep last night, so arrived with puffy eyes and even puffier face. I found a blob of doggy poop in the grass when Lucy was doing her own toilette, and I picked it up. I didn’t want people to think it was Lucy’s, so we trotted back to the security post at the entrance to have a little chat. Turns out that some people do bring their dogs here. Most inconsiderate of these dog owners, though. I cannot understand why people ruin pleasant environments and then complain that there aren’t enough dog friendly spaces around. For Lucy and me, it is such a relief that the security staff here are super friendly and welcoming. They remembered us from the last time. They even took photos of Miss Lucy to show their friends and family. One of them showed me pictures of his Dachshund too. It’s a somewhat tacky name, where our SYNC programme is being held, “Enabling Village“, but it’s turned out to be a sweet, gentle space for us.

Well, my creaky old body wasn’t very cooperative today, it decided that pain would be the punishment for the punishment. Never mind. A small price to pay for a push in the right direction. It’s not that I am learning anything revolutionary, but I really like that this course is framing everything neatly without breaking my already exhausted brain. Very useful for when I need to ponder kinks in the tapestry every now and then.

Oh, yes, I like that we have frequent breaks and there’s decent food – it’s not lavish five-star hotel banquet fare, but it all sits well in the depths of digestion. The effort taken by organisers really adds to my appreciation too – we even have afternoon fruits served up washed and cut!

Things do get a tad noisy at times – artists are passionate folk – and my head hurts from the loud, exuberant chatter, but the cacophony is never aggressive. Perhaps I’ll make use of the quiet room tomorrow.

Another little ‘clemency’ is the grass patch just outside our seminar room. It’s lovely just being able to take Lucy outside for little strolls during break times – harkens back just a teeny weeny little bit to our days in Sydney, where we’d go for a toilet break and a stretch every so often during the course of our day working at our studio on campus. Nowadays, every small association is precious – that was a time and space in our life that we will never have the chance to revisit together. It is now imperative that I cherish every new unfolding moment we share, as the sense of urgency grows.

No more throwing my hard won pearls into the bog of snarling, grabbing, self-serving gnashers. The recent wake-up call was timely.

C’est si bon!

Lucy in sync – SYNC Day 2

IMG_1885-lucy

I spy, with my beady eye???

It was Day 2 today. I am glad I brought Lucy. She alerted me to my nausea and dizziness when the room became a tad stuffy.

Being in a room with fellow artists with disability is in itself a daring and provocative thing – but this kind of provocation is good. We – by our combined presence – challenge one another and the collective whole to reflect, identify and frame our practice of leadership.

I am exhausted, but yet refreshed and energised at the same time. And Lucy created Clement Space beside me.

Photographs from Day 2:

This slideshow requires JavaScript.